Burn victim is on the rise


FORT LORAMIE – Kevin Pleiman’s life changed in a flash on a foggy December morning when a two-gallon fuel container exploded in his hands. Every moment since has been a painful, persistent, and patiently accepted struggle to slowly reclaim each part of his life the flames took away.

Kevin was burning lumber on the Camp Evergreen property he co-owns when the accident left him with third degree burns over 70% of his body. “In my mind I was thinking this was the end of me,” he said. “I’m going to burn up on this bridge. I thought about laying down and letting it end.”

His journey to survival began by crawling through a dry creek bed and digging for mud to put out the flames burning his clothes and skin.

Kevin entered the Miami Valley Hospital Regional Burn Center a week before Christmas and remained there 98 days before coming home a week before Easter.

Kevin is a blood donor with 69 lifetime donations. He received 27 blood transfusions during his treatment and was still undergoing skin graft surgeries on Feb. 20 when the St. Michael’s Hall blood drive dedicated in his honor registered 329 donors.

Kevin’s wife Shelly has kept family, friends and the community updated on Kevin’s recovery on their KT Prayerline Facebook page. “Shelly posted that about the blood transfusions on the Prayerline close to the blood drive so people would understand,” said Kevin.

He made it his mission to visit the April 16 St. Michael’s Hall blood drive to thank those he could. A mention on the KT Prayerline that Kevin would be visiting encouraged more appointments. The blood drive totaled 255 whole blood, platelet, and plasma donors.

Kevin takes multiple medications, has a daily wound care regimen and weekly physical therapy sessions. He uses a walker to get around as he continues to regain leg strength. His thigh muscles were deeply burned, and it will take months to recover from the atrophy of spending the entire winter in a hospital bed.

Kevin is co-owner of the Rapid Development construction company in Fort Loramie and staff member Rob Siedel was one of the donors who visited with him as he sat in the Donor Café. Shelby County Commissioner Tony Bornhorst greeted him with a warm handshake after donating.

Anita Brandelwie donated then chatted with Kevin before joining her fellow Fort Loramie American Legion Auxiliary volunteers serving donors in the Donor Café.

“I’m here for him,” Brandelwie said. “We had a garage fire in 2019. A gasoline container exploded, my husband and I caught on fire, and we lost our whole house.”

Like Kevin, she was transported by air ambulance and spent three months in the hospital. She visited Kevin when he first returned home to offer encouragement and answer questions.

“He wanted to see my scars,” she said. “He had questions, where did they take the skin from me? How long did it take to heal? Did they stiffen up?”

“Since my accident I’ve had three different burn victims reach out to me,” said Kevin. “It’s a club you don’t want to be in. You can’t explain it all.”

“It’s always the ‘what if?’” said Brandelwie. “You’re asking yourself, is it my own fault? You can’t go down that hole. Maybe we’re here just to help someone else.”

Camp Evergreen, Dec. 16, 2023

“I grew up burning brush and junk, many, many times,” said Kevin. He had gone to Camp Evergreen to burn lumber from a low foot bridge he planned to replace. He arrived alone but noticed the parked vehicle belonging to his 18-year-old nephew Levi Gephardt who was deer hunting.

“Just started to work pretty early that Saturday morning. It was really, really foggy,” said Kevin.

He had a small flame started in the wood pile when he used recycled paint thinner to accelerate it.

“The first splash missed the fire, landed on the brush pile,” he said. “I put another splash on it. I think on that first splash the liquid ran into the fire and ran up to my container. Two gallons of paint thinner blew up in my hand.”

“It happened so fast, and I realized my clothing was on fire. I was a volunteer fire fighter for 20 years; I knew about fire. I dropped and tried to roll out the fire in the woods, but I was rolling in a dry area, seemed like I was getting nowhere.

“I could see leaves on fire, I was just starting a fire. I got up, took off my heavy coat, got that off. My pants were fully on fire, tried to get pants off but my hands were on fire, I could not work the belt buckle, my hand couldn’t work.

“I gave up. A lot of questions went through my mind. It was hurting pretty good. I couldn’t tell if it was going out or getting worse.

“At that point in my mind I was thinking this was the end of me, I’m going to burn up on this bridge. I thought about laying down and letting it end.”

Instead, he got up, and dropped the two feet from the bridge to a dry creek bed, hoping to walk to the nearby pond. It was too far to reach. He began clawing the dry creek bottom.

“I dug a hole until I reached water and that’s how I got myself out, splashing water from that muddy hole on my body,” he said.

He believes he broke his pinky finger while digging. The bone became infected, and part of the finger was later amputated.

Kevin had used all his strength to call out to his nephew Levi, who was on the far end of the 80-acre property.

“He heard the explosion, and he heard me yelling his name,” said Kevin. “In between the two of us was the big lodge. “I hopped on my four-wheeler to get to the lodge.”

What he remembers most about that desperate journey was a flap of burned skin from his forehead covering his eyes, forcing him to tilt his head back to see where he was going. He met Levi at the lodge.

“The only clothes left on me was half of my T-shirt, part of my underwear and my shoes,” said Kevin. “I got in shower to cool my body down.”

Levi called 911 and called Shelly. “I don’t know what I would have done without him out there,” Kevin said. “I had no phone, no way to call out. My wife beat the squad there.”

He went by ambulance to the Houston Fire Department, then by CareFlight to Miami Valley Hospital. It was just the beginning of his recovery.

“In my mind I thought by Christmas I’d be home,” he said. “I didn’t know burns took so long to heal.”

Winter 2024

He has no memory of the next five weeks. He was heavily medicated for pain and went through multiple skin graft surgeries.

“Everybody has been burnt before, fingertips or something, it’s no fun,” said Kevin. “Just image that on your whole body, a third degree burn. Everyone knows what a burn feels like, but not to this percentage.”

But one memory is more vivid than the pain: “The support during that time, especially from my family,” he said. “Taking care of my kids.”

The Pleiman’s have five sons. Ethan is 23 and teaches at Sidney High School, Owen is a junior at Bowling Green University, Anderson is a freshman at Fort Loramie High School, Abram is a fourth grader and Quinton is a second grader at Fort Loramie Elementary School.

Shelly’s sister Denise Gaier and a group of fellow teachers took on the task of watching Abram and Quinton after school and helping with their homework, allowing Shelly to remain longer with Kevin at the hospital. Stacy Brandewie organized the schedule of meals donated and delivered to their home.

“It was a blessing to have someone help them every night and watch them,” said Kevin. “We got so many cards; everybody wants to do whatever they can do to help.”

Kevin said when he woke up in January he learned “the ball was already rolling” for the February St. Michael’s blood drive in his honor. “Everybody we were talking to wanted to help, but didn’t know how to help,” said Kevin. “That was a way to help, to go to this blood drive.”

The goal was 300 donors and it totaled 329, with many donors still coming well past the closing time. The biggest surprise was 37 first time donors. “That turns into additional donations over their lifetimes,” said Kevin.

He valued blood donations even more when he needed emergency platelets transfusions after his body reacted to Heparin, the medication he was receiving to prevent blood clots.

He is at a loss for words on why he and his family have received so much kindness. “I think it’s what I’ve given to the community,” he said. “I did a lot of work for local people and always treated them fairly.”

The day before he was discharged from the hospital, Australian plastic surgeon Dr. Fiona Woods was in the region for a conference and wanted to meet Kevin because a technique she pioneered is part of his treatment.

Woods invented the spray-on skin technique called “recell.” Healthy skin cells are cultured and sprayed onto the wounds, and they begin to grow, greatly reducing permanent scarring in burns victims. “It’s how they did my face,” said Kevin.

Spring 2024

The hospital staff celebrated Kevin on the day of his discharge, but it was a sobering farewell.

“The room I moved out of, I was there for 98 days, and somebody moved into it that night,” he said.

“It doesn’t end with needing blood. The nurses told us they had someone in there that night, and it seemed different because it was Kevin’s room. I went in a few days before winter and out in the spring. I spent the whole winter there.”

In the weeks since returning home Kevin celebrated Christmas on Easter Sunday, finally opening his presents still waiting under the Christmas tree. He belatedly celebrated his son Anderson’s 16th birthday and attended his Confirmation.

He is getting around better with the walker and looks forward to when his legs are healed enough that he can operate his four-wheeler. He is anxious to return to work and thinks about ways to give back. “I’m hoping someday to have good enough health to be able donate again,” he said.

“I’m exceeding expectations but everything seems slow,” he said. “I have to get my mind to accept everything is going to be a slow process.”

From the depths of a dry creek bottom, Kevin Pleiman is on the rise.

“We still have hills and valleys,” he said, “but they’re not as tall and deep.”

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